Costa Rica finds right formula ahead of World Cup

Joel Campbell in action for Costa Rica. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Renowned German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously coined the phrase that transcends through all aspects of everyday life. For Costa Rica, it best describes the national team’s commitment and dedication towards development in the last four years. The tribulations of los Ticos’ failed World Cup campaign for South Africa in 2010 are now a distant memory. Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto—who previously had an unsuccessful and short rein with Costa Rica eight years prior—took over in 2011. The mix of youth and experience is never an easy thing to balance, but Pinto has found the right formula and implemented a system that has brought out the very best from his players.


Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Levante), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense) Daniel Cambronero (Herediano)
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Alajuelense), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew), Michael Umana (Saprissa), Oscar Duarte (Bruges), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew), Heiner Mora (Saprissa), Junior Diaz (Mainz 05), Christian Gamboa (Rosenborg), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls)
Midfielders: Celso Borges (AIK), Christian Bolanos (Copenhagen), Esteban Granados (Herediano), Michael Barrantes (Aalesund), Yeltsin Tejeda (Saprissa), Diego Calvo (Valerenga), Jose Miguel Cubero (Herediano)
Forwards: Bryan Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven), Joel Campbell (Olympiakos), Randall Brenes (Cartagines), Marco Urena (FC Kuban Krasnodar)


The second coming of Jorge Luis Pinto as manager has been a resounding success, having crashed and burned almost a decade earlier during his brief spell with the senior side. The 61 year-old began his managerial career in Bogota with Millonarios, and in the three decades that followed he has won multiple first division titles in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Costa Rica. Pinto’s last international job ended in 2008, having failed to guide Colombia to the 2010 World Cup

Possible formation

4-4-2 (GK) Navas – (D) Gamboa, Duarte, Umana, Diaz – (M) Bolanos, Borges, Tejeda, Calvo – (F) Ruiz, Campbell

Group D schedule

June 14: vs. Uruguay in Fortaleza
June 20: vs. Italy in Recife
June 24: vs. England in Belo Horizonte

How they qualified

Qualification was confirmed with two matches to spare, as Costa Rica finished a successful CONCACAF campaign in second place, four points behind the United States, and three ahead of Honduras. Taking nothing away from their performances, but the unthinkable and pitiful form of continental favourites Mexico was extremely helpful. The door was left open, and Costa Rica did enough to walk through.

Team strengths

A solid foundation on the defensive end—built from a core collective of virtual unknowns—was the key to clinching automatic progression to Brazil, and avoiding a dreaded two-legged playoff qualifier. Los Ticos conceded the least amount of goals in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying (seven in 10 games), and produced four clean sheets. Veteran defender Michael Umana and goalkeeper Keylor Navas are essential pieces to the puzzle.

Team weaknesses

The biggest concern for Costa Rica heading into this tournament is the unfortunate label of being slow-starters. The fourth and final round of qualifying was ultimately successful because of a string of positive performances that followed a poor start—Los Ticos collected a single point from their first two matches. Should this trend continue, a quick exit will be the end result.

Players to watch

PSV’s Bryan Ruiz provides a menacing presence for opponents in attack, and is arguably the team’s most skillful player. However, the one player who could make the most impact is Joel Campbell. The 21 year-old had a breakthrough season on loan with Greek champions Olympiakos, having previously spent time at Real Betis and Lorient. Campbell gained global attention after scoring a cracker in his team’s upset victory over Manchester United in the Champions League.

Burning question?

Does Costa Rica have a legitimate chance at advancing into the second round? Nope. Apologies to all the Los Ticos supporters for my harsh assessment of the obvious truth, as I can imagine it’s painful to hear. Nothing is ever impossible, but odds are Costa Rica’s fate was already sealed when drawn into Group D. To put it bluntly, they are overmatched and not of the same calibre as their opponents.

Prospects in Brazil

Shocking upsets are infrequent by nature, which is why when they occur we all are thoroughly entertained—unless your team is on the receiving end. No matter how bleak, every nation at the World Cup dares to dream big. Costa Rica can be counted among the lot of dreamers. Calling Los Ticos massive underdogs is putting it lightly, as they prepare to face Uruguay, Italy and England in the group stage.

World Cup history

No-shows in South Africa four years ago, Costa Rica will be making its fourth appearance on the world stage. Italia ’90 was their inaugural introduction into the global football spectrum, and that was their best performance. It began with a big win in their opener against Scotland (1-0), followed by a respectable 1-0 defeat by Brazil, before a 2-1 win over Sweden on the final day of the group phase clinched a place in the knockout round. A 4-1 loss to Czechoslovakia ended a positive debut.

• 1930 to 1954 – Did not enter
• 1958 to 1986 – Did not qualify
• 1990 – Second round
• 1994 – Did not qualify
• 1998 – Did not qualify
• 2002 – First round
• 2006 – First round
• 2010 – Did not qualify

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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